Literary daybook, Oct. 1

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors

Published October 1, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

Today in fiction

On Oct. 1, 2182, Teal, in the Tesak, helps save the earth from Uelson attack.
-- "Sovereign" (1979)
by R.M. Meluch

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
occurred? Send it to

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Today in literary history
On this day in 1985 E.B. White died, at the age of 86. Beyond the specific fame -- his "Notes and Comments" for the New Yorker; his "One Man's Meat" essays for Harper's; his children's books "Stuart Little," "Charlottte's Web" and "Trumpet of the Swan"; his revisions for Strunk's "Elements of Style" -- White is revered for his straight talking and clear saying, and his loathing of showoff prose. Not for nothing is Charlotte's ultimate web-tribute to Wilbur, "Humble."

Though connected to both the city and the magazine for much of his writing life, White's ambivalence toward being a New Yorker started early. In his late 20s he was buying into a summer camp in northern Ontario; by 1933 he and his wife, Katharine Angell, had purchased the 40-acre farm in North Brooklin, Maine, that would become their summer and then full-time home, as they both became part-time writer-editors. White's often-quoted "Here Is New York" "love letter" was published in the late '40s, but a decade earlier he had made his reasons for leaving the place as clear, more convincing, and at least as relevant as the praise:

"A certain timbre of journalism and the stepping up of news, with the implication that the first duty of man is to discover everything that has just happened everywhere in the world ... The acceptance, by individual and state, of the ideal of publicity, as though the sheer condition of being noticed were the ultimate good ... It is a little hard to get on paper, but I smell something that doesn't smell good. There is a decivilizing bug somewhere at work; unconsciously persons of stern worth, by not resenting and resisting the small indignities of the times, are preparing themselves for the eventual acceptance of what they themselves know they don't want."

Interviewed at the farm on his 70th birthday, White said he was only writing a little, and when he did, "I wish instead I were doing what my dog is doing at this moment, rolling in something ripe he has found on the beach in order to take on its smell. His is such an easy, simple way to increase one's stature and enlarge one's personality." When asked what he cherished most in life, White replied: "When my wife's Aunt Caroline was in her 90s, she lived with us, and she once remarked: 'Remembrance is sufficient of the beauty we have seen.' I cherish the remembrance of the beauty I have seen. I cherish the grave, compulsive word."

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," contact Steve King.

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